Cars stolen in Britain end up all over the world, often shipped via container boats. Mike Briggs, vehicle security manager at security standards experts Thatcham, says the arrival of organised gangs targeting newer cars is making the problem worse. The UK is a world leader in car theft prevention, but that position is under threat, he says. Around one-fifth of stolen cars are new vehicles, and organised gangs are aware that British motorists buy high-spec cars.
The way to avoid a car jacking is to always drive with your doors locked, and never open your car if a stranger approaches you. Thats the easy bit, but people could do a lot more to avoid tempting thieves to mug them or break into their home. Statistics from AA Insurance show that car key burglaries where the thief takes the keys and then drives off in the car have risen 20% year-on-year. The advice is simple: dont leave your cars keys lying around at home, especially near doors and windows, or in public places.
Keys are the weakest link in the car security chain and you should treat them as you E would cash, says Simon Douglas, director of AA Car Insurance. You wouldnt leave 10,000 in banknotes simply lying around, but thats exactly what many people do with the keys to their car.
Keyless entry systems, which allow you to open and start your car without removing the key from your bag or pocket, present another problem. Park on your driveway and put the remote key on a shelf by the door, for instance, and its quite possible for the thief to walk up to the car, open it and drive it away.
MacKay also highlights a niche problem that he predicts could become more widespread. Hybrid car owners often park up after driving the last bit of the journey on electric power only, then forget to switch off the car simply because theres no engine noise. Once the electric power runs out and when the owner has wandered off the engine starts, leaving a car thats sitting there simply begging to be stolen.
Thatcham Vehicle Security categories
Category 1 Electronic Alarm and immobiliser
Category 2 Electronic/Electromechanical immobiliser
Category 2-1 Electric alarm upgrade
Category 3 Mechanical immobiliser
Category 4 Wheel locking devices
Category 5 Tracking systems
Category 6 Vehicle tracker
Category 7 Vehicle locator
Thatcham is the leading independent assessor of security equipment, and is recognised by the Association of British Insurers. That means your insurance bill will fall if your car is fitted with approved equipment. Each category relates to a system type it is not a rating of effectiveness, although they do cover different systems that do similar jobs.
A small but growing number of criminals are catching up with security advances.
One expert we consulted, who asked not to be named, said: Give me 25, take me to B&Q and Ill buy all the equipment I need to steal any car that is open or shut using the plipper on the key fob. You need to know what youre doing, but theres a growing number of thieves out there that do. I could watch you blip your car from a hundred metres away, capture that signal and drive off in your car in minutes.
MacKay and Briggs admit that the tide has turned back in favour of criminals and that, at present, there are only limited means of defence against the violence or cunning the thieves are now prepared to employ.
Criminals have adapted to overcome the strides weve made in securing cars, says MacKay. After years of dramatic success in cutting car crime, were now braced for a small but significant nationwide rise.
Every car owner should do whatever they can to make thieves lives as hard as possible. Some criminals will do anything to get your car keys, but many are just opportunists waiting for you to present them with an opening.
What Car? says
There are easy ways to ensure that the risk of your car being stolen is minimised. When youre in the car, keep the doors locked. That way thieves simply cant get at you.
If youre in the house, put the keys out of sight in a drawer. If criminals cant see them, they cant steal them. Its only common sense.